An Instant New York Times Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book
One of Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2020
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by: The Washington Post, NPR, Shelf Awareness, Esquire, Electric Literature, Slate, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and InStyle
A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.
With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Natasha Trethewey’s deeply personal memoir is an indelible portrait of a scarring experience. Centered around the murder of her mother at the hands of an abusive ex-husband when Trethewey was 19, Memorial Drive puts the horrific event in full perspective by building up the story that surrounds it, starting with her mother’s marriage to her white Canadian father during the Jim Crow era in the Deep South—when antimiscegenation laws were still in effect. Trethewey, a former U.S. poet laureate, captivatingly recalls her life as a mixed-race child growing up in Mississippi and Georgia. From the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross in her family’s driveway to her mother’s eventual second marriage to a violently unstable Vietnam vet, Trethewey describes events in her life with stirring prose that makes every word feel like it was written in her own blood, sweat, and tears. Trethewey’s poetic insight into the ways that racism in America has informed both her traumas and her reaction to them reminded us of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. We won’t be surprised if Memorial Drive becomes a similar classic.
In this beautifully composed, achingly sad memoir, U.S. poet laureate Trethewey (Monument) addresses the 1985 murder of her mother, Gwendolyn, at age 40, at the hands of her ex-husband, the author's former stepfather. Over the course of the narrative, Trethewey, 19 at the time of the killing, confronts her wrenching past, which she avoided for decades, as she tries to undo the "willed amnesia buried deep in me like a root." Born in 1966 in Mississippi, she recalls her childhood in the racist South, the daughter of an African-American mother and a white Canadian father who separated when she was a girl. Mother and daughter moved to Atlanta in 1972, and it's there that the nightmare begins, after Gwendolyn meets Joel, a Vietnam vet she marries and with whom she soon has a son named Joey. Trethewey chillingly ramps up the tension as Joel is revealed to be a calculating, controlling psychopath who psychologically torments the author and beats her mother. Gwendolyn eventually leaves Joel, but he continues to stalk her, and Trethewey includes ominous documents (including an urgent letter Gwendolyn wrote to police) that reveal the terrifying circumstances of her life before the murder, for which Joel was sent to prison. This profound story of the horrors of domestic abuse and a daughter's eternal love for her mother will linger long after the book's last page is turned.
Beautifully written and terribly heartbreaking
Just poetry in long form.
When I find myself reading and re-reading paragraphs and even chapters in a book, I know that the writing is superb and beyond my ability to absorb all at one time. This is one I could read over and over and still find writing at which to marvel. Excellent and painful.
Her story of trauma and memory is told lyrically.